Perfectionism is something I have struggled with from a young age. Although I have worked long and hard to overcome the notion that I need to meet this unattainable version of myself, I still find my perfectionist nature difficult to shake.
My thinking tends to be very black and white – only one extreme, or another. This makes it difficult to find a middle ground when thinking about myself, others, and the world around me.
I’ve always strived to be a good person, and when I make a mistake, or do something construed as bad, it bothers me immensely because it challenges my self-perception.
Yesterday in therapy, my counsellor did an interesting exercise with me. She drew two circles on a piece of paper. In the left circle we wrote all the things that correspond with my idea of “good”, such as eating healthy, exercising, getting good grades, and being kind to other people. The circle on the right, we filled with the opposites, or “bad” things, like eating junk food, lying in bed all day, procrastinating, and snapping at my loved ones.
I don’t like to think of myself in relation to the bad things I wrote down, because then I feel like I am not a good person. I usually deny that the items in the right circle even exist because in my mind, acknowledging them means that I am a terrible person. When I do acknowledge them, it feels like they negate all my positive qualities, even though I exhibit my positive behaviours more often then these negative ones.
Next, my therapist drew a third circle on the paper, a large oval enclosing both the left and right circles. She wrote my name at the top, and said, this is you. Sometimes you are good, and sometimes you are bad, but it’s okay because you are a human, and we are all like this.
I had never really thought of myself as the big circle. In my mind, I was either the left circle, or the right – they were mutually exclusive. Learning to accept that I am a myriad of things that are constantly contradicting one another is a tough concept to grasp for me, but I am working on challenging my thoughts and coming to terms with these contradictions.
The next time I engage in a “bad” behaviour, I will remind myself that all humans, including myself, are not just good or bad, but both – and that is okay. I am not perfect, but I can learn to embrace all the things that make me who I am – the good and the bad.